Tom Chick

Firaxis unveils the Nico vs. Chthon showdown Marvel fans have been waiting for!

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If you’d asked me 20 years ago to name a bunch of Marvel superheroes, I would have done well enough. But if you ask me today? Now that Marvel is as culturally relevant as even the most famous Disney princess, I can probably name dozens. Literally. I bet I could manage the names of at least 24 superheroes without even having to boot up my copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 to remember there are superheroes named Crystal and Elsie Bloodstone.

But with today’s announcement of Firaxis’ Marvel game, Midnight Suns, I can raise that number to at least 29:

Through a twisted marriage of magic and science, the nefarious force known as Hydra has revived Lilith, Mother of Demons, after centuries of slumber. Lilith will stop at nothing to complete an ancient prophecy and summon her evil master, Chthon. Pushed to the brink, the Avengers desperately look to fight fire with Hellfire by enlisting the help of the Midnight Suns – Nico Minoru, Blade, Magik, and Ghost Rider – young heroes with powers deeply rooted in the supernatural, formed to prevent the very prophecy Lilith aims to fulfill. Together, they resurrect an ancient warrior – the Hunter, Lilith’s forsaken child and the only hero known to have ever defeated her.

On one hand, I’m glad to see Disney exploring the, uh, overlooked elements of their shiny new IP. But on the other hand, they couldn’t spare something a little more mainstream for the folks at Firaxis who brought us XCOM? I have heard of exactly two of the characters in that premise, one famous because he was played by Nicolas Cage, and the other famous for an aphorism about obstreperous individuals unwilling to accept the gravitational dynamics of ice skating.

Firaxis will be showing off Midnight Suns gameplay next week. Until then, I’m imagining the superhero X-com we’ve all been dreaming about since Simtex’s Guardians: Agents of Justice was canceled.

After 275 updates, Star Traders: Frontiers is finally ready to break some copyright laws

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The 275th update — not an exaggeration! — to Star Traders: Frontiers has finally added mod support to the Trese Brothers’ sprawling and lovingly intricate space opera. With the release of this update, they’ve announced five mods currently available. Most of them are the usual cruft. Little more than cheats, really. Hack your crew to max level! Insanely powerful ships to run roughshod over the official content! New classes that are really just remixes of existing classes! I can be dismissive because I haven’t actually tried any of them.

However, one of the mods I haven’t tried reminds me of a Firefly-inspired challenge to play Star Traders: Frontiers with fewer crew members, each of whom matter more. In its current state, Star Traders: Frontiers is about managing a few dozen crew members. If one or two mutiny or get killed, eh, no big deal, you’ve got plenty more. But what if they weren’t so disposable? What if none of them wore red shirts? Two years ago, that was the premise behind a Firefly community challenge. Today, it’s the premise behind the Merchant Marine: Fly Casual mod.

Of course, there are sure to be scads of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Expanse, Defiance, and Dr. Who mods. I’m not sure if Steam hosts these anymore or if you’ll have to go to someplace like nexusmods.com to get them. But I am sure they’ll be out there. I’ll be holding out for a Dune total conversion.

Rift Apart brings ray tracing — and not much else — to Ratchet & Clank

, | Game reviews

What a great time to be a fan of ray tracing!  Whatever that is.  I couldn’t tell you what ray tracing is if my life depended on it.  Something to do with reflections and light?  I figure it’s like lens flare: if I notice it, it’s not doing its job.  But I’d have to know what it is to notice it.  So, hurrah, ray tracing has finally come to Ratchet & Clank thanks to the power of the Playstation 5!  And since I haven’t noticed it, it must be working!

Wait, hold on, what’s this setting in the options menu?

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Old World: So you’re in a hurry?

, | Game diaries

It can take a long time for your cities in Old World to finish whatever they’re doing.  Whether you’re producing a worker, a scout, a military unit, walls, a treasury, or a gardener for your lavender grove, it can take literally years.  Sometimes as many as a dozen!  Who has time for that?  Which is where hurrying comes in.  It’s a tradition in strategy games like this.  If you want that settler now, you can have it.  So long as you pay extra.  

But like many elements of Old World, it doesn’t work like you might expect, and it’s not very well documented.  You can puzzle over the tooltips, but the overall concept isn’t explained very well.  Here’s what Old World has to say about itself: “Hurrying can be unlocked with Laws, Archetypes, or Family Classes.”  Not terribly helpful.  So let me explain hurrying in the kind of detail you need to actually take advantage of it.

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The top ten games of 2021 (so far)

, | Features

Oh, look, half of 2021 is gone already.  I hadn’t noticed that it was time to take stock of the best games of the year so far.  Note that anything that might have come out on or after July 1st, perhaps distracting me from other things, isn’t eligible.  So let’s take a look at the best game of 2021 that came out before midnight, June 30th.

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Old World: Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.

, | Game diaries

Families aren’t a discrete system in Old World.  They’re also not something you can easily relate to other games you’ve played.  They’re not like combat, or income, or technology, or culture, or religion.  Instead, they’re all of those things and more.  They’re Old World’s middle layer, interacting with the smaller scale of individual characters and the larger scale of strategic gameplay, influencing and influenced on both sides.  Think of them as the glue that holds the Civilization IV to the Crusader Kings.  

Part of Old World’s brilliance as a design is how it combines its three distinct scales: personal, social, and geopolitical.  Imagine a wargame that you play at a tactical, operational, and strategic level.  You assign resources to train troops, then you arrange those troops into armies and move them around a map, and then you control individual soldiers as they fight a battle. Crazy, right?  It can’t be done!  Now imagine you play all three levels simultaneously.  Even crazier!

As videogamers, we’re used to designs like Creative Assembly’s Total War series or the X-com model, in which a tactical layer is wrapped in a strategic shell.  And we’re even used to games like Civilization V trying to combine a strategy game with a tactical layer of moving units around terrain, shooting arrows over lakes, and taking cover in hills.  But Old World combines three separate scales, all woven into the gameplay at the same time, all affecting and affected by each other constantly.  Nearly every moment of everything you do in Old World will percolate through its personal, social, and geopolitical gameplay.  Families are the social level and today I’d like to break down how they affect the larger scale of developing your cities.

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Bringing new eyes to Old World

, | Game diaries

Mohawk Games’ Old World is finally out of early access today. And if you’re like me and you’ve been waiting for the full release, I should warn you that it might be a bumpy ride. Brace yourself. Is that godawful clattering sound everything falling apart, or is it the rollercoaster being pulled to the top of an impending thrill ride?

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: when you’re wrong, you’re wrong

, | Movie reviews

I’ve spent decades denigrating the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre as artless trash.  I’m not sure when I first saw it.  Probably in college, sometime around 1990.  That was also the last time I saw it.  Since then, I’ve seen Tobe Hooper’s other movies.  I’ve rewatched Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, Eaten Alive, Funhouse, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in the last few years, and they’re all varying degrees of horrible (the conventional wisdom about Poltergeist, which is still great, is that Spielberg actually directed it).  It’s been my assertion all along that Tobe Hooper is a terrible director, and although there might be something raw and effective in his first movie, it’s artless trash.  

I was wrong.  So egregiously wrong.

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With big guns & a bionic dog, Necromunda web-slings through the world of Warhammer

, | Game reviews

Necromunda: Hired Gun is the best Spider-Man game since Spider-Man.  My magic web-shooter/grappling hook can get me anywhere I can see.  A quick thwip and I’m standing on a ledge high overhead!  The double-jump assist is just gravy.  But unlike Sony’s 2018 love letter to Silver Age superheroics, Hired Gun lives in a grim Warhammer world where I didn’t jump up to this ledge for thrills; I jumped up here to snipe a bunch of crazy dudes sporting plasma rifles, blue Mohawks, and skull flair.  Also, I’ve got a dog tagging along and I’m toting serious firepower of my own.  Frankly, the dog isn’t much of a dog anymore.  When I upgrade him, I swap out his dog parts for robot parts.  A paw here, a leg there, one side of his face, a jaw, another leg.  He may not be as furry as he used to be, but he’s still a good boy.  I summon him with a squeaky toy (Warhammer needs more humorous touches like this).  As for the guns, they’re not foolin’ around.  This is the Warhammer universe, so they’re absurdly large heavy hitters, even when they’re just pistols.  They have names like Deathbringer, Funeral Ball, Burning Sun, and Scars Machina.  They take up a lot of screen real estate.

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Worst thing you’ll see all week: Those Who Wish Me Dead

, | Movie reviews

We can’t be letting city-slicker criminals murder kids out in the woods.  It’s just not right.  Fortunately, there are salt-of-the-earth outdoorsman types doing their part, some of whom are even ladies!  I consider this a subgenre in thrillers.  Movie about criminals in tracts of wilderness going up against people who are better than them at camping and whatnot.

For instance, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a thriller directed by Taylor Sheridan, a square-jawed TV actor who apparently had a drawer full of scripts.  

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Biomutant tells a cautionary tale about cleaning up your own mess

, | Game reviews

A colorful post-apocalyptic open world populated by intelligent mutated animals.  Tthe usual Ubisoft style open-world with a touch of Gamma World and a Secret of NIMH vibe.  Over-the-top brawler gameplay, intricate stat-based character development, and a hearty crafting system.  Mounts, vehicles, loot, exploration, puzzles, choice-and-consequence.  A robot cricket sidekick!  If games were bullet points, Biomutant would have a lot going for it.  But since games are games, Biomutant is only as good as the realization of these bullet points.

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Will stealth finally work in Phoenix Point? Find out May 25th!

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One of my complaints about Phoenix Point is that the stealth is poorly integrated into the game. From my otherwise enthusiastic review:

Combat is very gamey and deterministic, but stealth is all under-the-hood voodoo.  You never know whether an alien will see you or not. You can see a stealth number and a perception number, and you can affect these numbers in different ways.  You know the interaction of these numbers determines whether someone is visible. But there’s no indication of how the numbers interact. It’s the worst kind of information: presented without any of the context you need to make decisions.  There’s no way to make sure your sneaky assassin stays out of sight as he creeps around the map while everyone else is shooting. Stealth is obviously supposed to be a gameplay system in Phoenix Point, which has cloaking suits and noiseless weapons and varying levels of light to affect visibility.  But in its current state, it is no such thing. It’s a locked black box, good for stubbing your toe and not much else.

Yet stealth is part of how gear is tuned, which in turn is part of how characters are developed and factions are balanced, both a fundamental element of gameplay progression. Will that change next week? From developer Snapshot Games’ latest blog entry about the May 25th update:

…understanding enemy awareness was important for players trying stealthy maneuvers, and we wanted to help players know when they might be in jeopardy. Enemy perception range is now visualized when hovering over a selected enemy, so you can see which of your soldiers may be at risk.

At least, my infiltrators might actually be able to infiltrate! The new Festering Skies DLC will also be available on May 25th. It adds more stuff for your interceptors to do and a giant alien ship that flies around terrorizing the globe.